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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Wild(life) Side of WCC

Visitors and students at WCC often remark about the lovely green spaces that accent the College’s central campus. They praise areas like the stand of tall pines that buffer it from the busy Clark and Golfside intersection. And they delight in the well-groomed spaces of the Community Park and the plaza that create restful areas in which to study or enjoy outdoor fun with friends between classes.

But few realize that most of the green space on campus is more than just devoid of buildings, parking spaces, and foot traffic. Instead, it is a respite for migrating birds and a home for trees and plants that grow naturally. While buffering students and visitors from traffic, it also serves as a refuge for wildlife struggling to navigate the encroaching development that surrounds campus.

WCC is the conservator of approximately 52 acres that border campus from north to south and stretch west to Hogback Road along the U.S. 23 corridor. It is a responsibility that the College takes very seriously.

A Glacier Shaped the Land

Roughly 50,000 years ago, glacial ice known as the Saginaw Lobe carved the campus and its surrounding area. It’s responsible for the 55-ton boulder that now sits adjacent to the Family Education building. The fossil-filled rock likely originated in northeast Michigan, and was deposited on campus by the glacial drift at the end of the Wisconsinan advance about 16,000 years ago.

The scraping and dragging that occurs with such a process causes a great deal of change in earth topography. As a result, ground elevations in the area can vary as much as 12 feet or more in places.

Several distinct ecosystems comprise the naturalized part of campus. They include:

  • A moist woodland
  • An oak opening
  • An old field/shrubland
  • An area of mixed conifers and hardwoods

There are seven ponds of varying sizes in the area as well. Two of them are man-made, the result of mitigation efforts required to address storm water runoff due to parking lots and building footprints. There also are large swathes of wetlands regulated by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

As in other naturalized ecosystems in Washtenaw County, some invasive plant species have found a home here. They include:

  • Purple loosestrife
  • Reed canary grass
  • Common reed

Sections of the west moist woodland also are heavily contaminated with common buckthorn and honeysuckle. The erosion and poor soil quality caused by the loss of healthy ground cover in that area are evident.

What Birds and Animals Visit Campus?

The rugged terrain is not very hospitable to students or nature lovers out for a stroll. Consequently, many species of wildlife take advantage of its isolation. Some of the birds and wildlife seen coming and going from the area include:

  • Cranes
  • Swans
  • Egrets
  • Geese
  • Ducks
  • Deer
  • Coyotes
  • Foxes
  • Muskrats
  • Woodchucks
  • Squirrels
  • Chipmunks
  • Turtles
  • Frogs

The question is: How long will this environment remain available to them?

“The College’s development plan has always been protective of these natural systems. That’s why we have built in areas originally planted and farmed as an orchard,” said Damon Flowers, associate vice president of facilities development and operations. “There are only two locations identified as possible sites for future expansion. Each of them is adjacent to the west perimeter road, one to the north and another to the south. There are no plans to build at this time. But if we choose to move forward, we do so knowing that the impact on that area should be minimized.”

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For media inquiries, contact:

Susan Ferraro
Director Media Relations

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